Crappie net

Crappie are a popular sport fish prone to gather in large number around man-made brush piles strategically placed to concentrate the fish.

It is no secret among crappie fishing buffs that sinking brush piles far from shore is a great way to forge some really good fishing holes while enhancing the habitat at the same time.

Unfortunately, the practice has been known to stir up an occasional feud between fishermen, particularly on public reservoirs shared by lots of other anglers on the hunt for a sweet spot to dunk a shiner or jig.

While most clashes over brush piles lead to nothing more than a few cross words, some get heated and escalate out of hand when they shouldn’t. Folks have gone to jail because of altercations over fishing holes.

I’m aware of a couple of incidents where guns were brandished.  

Here’s the fuel that ignites many of the conflicts: Building brush piles is labor intensive. Trees must be cut, gathered and hauled to the location, then dropped overboard and secured to bottom using heavy blocks or sandbags. Some anglers have invested in large barges and platforms for use in building fish hotels. It’s hard work that takes boat loads of time to accomplish.

Dropped in the right spots and secured correctly, brush piles can be magnets for the cover-loving panfish as well as bass. Artificial structures made from PVC, corrugated drain pipe and other everlasting material also work well. Crappie are prone to gather around the mazes of vertical cover in significant number, especially during summer and fall.

The brush pile bite can be so fast at times that multiple anglers might sack up 25 fish limits in short order. It is common for reputable fishing guides and serious recreational anglers to build multiple “fish hotels” on the same body of water.

This allows for bouncing around from spot to spot and plucking a few fish here and there rather than milking a single brush pile for everything it is worth. The idea is to leave some fish for seed to attract others so brush piles will continue to replenish from one day to the next. Savvy anglers call it fishing smart.  

Years ago, fishermen relied on antiquated paper maps and depth finders to pinpoint underwater humps, ridges, drop offs and other good spots to sink brush piles.

Relocating the open water sweet spots typically meant relying on landmarks and other visual objects — a time-consuming process that naturally helped keep honey holes under wraps from other fishermen.  

The advent of global positioning satellite (GPS) combined with modern mapping and downscan/sidescan sonar technology introduced in the early 2000s changed all that. Secret fishing spots rarely exist for very long with today’s high-tech electronics. Modern mapping technology has made it possible for fishermen to find high percentage spots on just about any lake without ever leaving their driveway.

Once on the water, anglers can idle over those areas, use sonar to pinpoint brush piles 100 feet on either side of the boat and mark them with waypoints by the push of button. Technology is a beautiful thing, indeed. But it also has helped fan the nasty flames of confrontation among fishermen more than once.  

Frustration sometimes sets in when two crappie anglers collide around a brush pile. This is especially true when the angler who built it arrives and finds a stranger already locked down on the spot and reaping the finny benefits of his or her hard work. The rub can get particularly raw when both parties are fishing guides who make a living off the resource, but only one of them claims to have had a hand in dropping the pile.

Or when an angler waits patiently in the distance for another to leave a productive pile, then moves in and homesteads the sweet spot until there is nothing left. Rules of the Road  Opinions are sure to vary as to what is right or wrong with those pictures.

Some will say angler ethics, respect and common courtesy could go under the microscope, but in the eyes of the law it really doesn’t matter.  

Once a brush pile leaves an angler’s boat and sinks to bottom of public water, it automatically becomes fair game for anyone.  

If someone tries to tell you different, they are wrong. Everyone is entitled to free speech, but if they press the issue too hard or make threats, they could be pushing the limits of state law.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, Sec. 62.0125 contains language related to the Harassment of Hunters, Trappers and fishermen, specifically the Sportsman's Rights Act.  

According to part 2c. of that law "no person may intentionally interfere with another person lawfully engaged in the process of hunting or catching wildlife." And wildlife includes fish.

A person who violates this section commits an offense classified as a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail, according to Heath Bragg, a Captain Game Warden with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.  

Bragg is a 20-year veteran game warden who helps oversee a big chunk of eastern Texas that encompasses Sam Rayburn Reservoir and the Texas-side of Toledo Bend. Like lakes Fork, Palestine, Cedar Creek and host of others, the crappie fisheries receive significant amounts of fishing pressure.  

The warden said he has seen a noticeable uptick in the number complaints related to angler confrontations around brush piles over the last two years. He attributes the increase to more anglers on the water who are better equipped to find fish.

“Boat sales are up and technology is so advanced that it has changed the game,” he said. “With the electronics we have now all a guy has to do is spend some time idling and he’s going to find brush piles that somebody else more than likely put there.”  

Bragg reiterated the fact that there is no such thing as private fishing holes on public waters. When it comes to brush piles, it’s first come, first served, regardless of who did the dirty work. “When you put a brush top out there, you have to know that the chances are pretty great that somebody else will find it and fish it, especially with today’s technology,” he said. “That’s something anglers need to learn to accept if they are going to do it. If they aren’t willing to do that, then they probably shouldn’t be doing it.”  

Fishermen have been feuding over fishing holes since the dawn of time, and the bickering isn’t likely to subside anytime soon. Making the choice to hunker down on a brush pile erected by someone else is strictly a judgement call. Every situation is different. Just because the law says it is legal doesn’t always mean it is the right or smartest thing to do.

Sometimes it’s better to look the other way and move on rather than risk getting into a senseless feud.

Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, mattwillwrite4u@yahoo.com.

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